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Bihar Polls: BJP's two Muslim candidates fighting against all odds

Raj Singh

New Delhi:  The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has fielded two Muslim candidates in 2015 Bihar Assembly elections. Since the perception of BJP among Muslim electorate is not very positive  in view of a palpable trust deficit that exists between the two sides, it always becomes an uphill task for Muslim BJP candidates to justify their allegiance to the saffron party.

In Bihar, the two Muslim candidates of BJP are facing the same challenge in Bihar. When they approach the members of their own community for votes, they are being asked why their party leaders are targeting Muslims.

And the BJP candidates find it difficult to come up with convincing answers. The recent utterances of certain BJP leaders including party president Amit Shah have made the job even more difficult for these BJP candidates.

Amit Shah in a rally said that “crackers will burst in Pakistan should the BJP lose Bihar”. His statement is believed to have further widened the chasm.

These candidates point out that there is no hatred as such in the Muslim community for Prime Minister Narendra Modi but the provocative statements of other BJP leaders have given a handle to the opponents of the saffron party.

Does it mean that they stand no chance in their respective constituencies? The answer is in the negative. The reason is that they are contesting from Muslim dominated constituencies where intra-community rivalries overshadow all other contentious issues.

The two Muslim candidates of BJP are Saba Zafar and Abdul Rehman from Amour and Kochdhaman Assembly constituency, respectively.

Saba Zafar is the sitting MLA of BJP from Amour. His father used to represent this constituency as a Samajwadi Partymember.

After his death, Zafar used to contest as an independent candidate. Zafar  joined BJP before 2010 Assembly elections  on the invitation of Shahnawaz Hussain, two-time BJP MP from Kishanganj.

He was the only Muslim candidate of BJP in 2010 Assembly elections. He sprung a surprise for BJP by defeating Congress candidate Abdul Jalil Mastan who is once again in the fray from the same constituency.

In 2010, one of the main reasons behind Saba Zafar’s victory was the division of Muslim votes on account of caste identities. Saba Zafar belongs to Kulhaiya caste while his Congress opponent Abdul Jalil Mastan belonged to Surajpuri caste of Muslims.

Since the two Muslim castes are bitter rivals in the region, they voted for their respective candidates which weakened the unity of Muslim votes.

The consolidation of Hindu and Kulhaiya Muslim votes helped Zafar trounce his Congress opponent easily. This time, things have become more challenging as Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM, too, has fielded a Kulhaiya Muslim.

What is more challenging is that Saba Zafar is finding it difficult to explain BJP stand on beef controversy as well as Dadri lynching.

Zafar tries to explain to his community that the BJP is only talking about implementing the anti-cow slaughter law which was enacted during Congress regime.

“The law that is used to attack Muslims was enacted by the Congress. Why blame the BJP? The BJP only wants to implement it,” Zafar told a English daily.

Zafar, however, concedes that it’s a tough task to convince his community as there is a clear trust deficit and provocative statements from BJP leaders are not helping the party’s cause  either.

“People like us are striving to get Muslims to start believing in the BJP. And if our top leaders cooperate, Muslims will flock towards the BJP,”  Zafar added.

Abdul Rehman, the other Muslim candidate of BJP, is facing the same predicament. He is contesting from Kochadhaman constituency of Kishanganj Lok Sabha constituency which has an overwhelming 70% Muslim population. Before joining BJP last year, Rehman was a block president of Congress party.

In this constituency, it’s not easy for a Muslim to contest on BJP ticket given the fact that the party is seen with suspicion among the community. Abdul Rehman finds himself in a tight spot while explaining party’s stand on beef controversy as well as Dadri lynching.

As far as beef controversy is concerned, Rehman takes the risk of deviating from his party line and asserts that since his religion permits beef eating, nobody can stop him from eating it. On Dadri lynching, Rehman tries to assure his community by saying that it’s all because of politics.

But he knows how difficult it is for him to answer incisive questions from his electorate.

“People made me cry a lot. Everywhere I went, they would hold me by the collar and ask questions. Joining the BJP was a big decision, full of challenges. Even my father asked a lot of questions,” Rehman told a leading newspaper.

Despite all odds, Rehman is hopeful of a victory because like Amour, Kochadhaman has also witnessed a fierce rivalry between two dominant Muslim castes of the region - Shershahbadi and Surajpuri.

In the voter list, Surajpuri Muslims are around 1.25 Lakhs in number while Shershahbadi Muslims number around 40 thousands. Hindu voters, on the other hand, are about 50 thousand in number.

The interesting factor is that the two main opponents of Rehman- Mujahid Alam of JD(U) and Akhtarul Imam of Asaduddin Owaisi’s party AIMIM -  are  both from Surajpuri caste.

Akhtarul Imam is a former RJD legislator and now heads the state unit of AIMIM.

Like Saba Zafar, Abdul Rehman fancies his chances  on the hopes of a split in Surajpuri Muslim votes and consolidation of Hindu and Shershahbadi Muslim votes.

Both the Muslim candidates of BJP are hopeful of emerging victorious owing to local factors but given the fact that they are contesting from Muslim dominated areas they are finding it an arduous task to defend the statements of their senior own  leaders.

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